For Nick Collison the only experience more painful than spending his rookie season on the sideline was living with the throbbing in his left shoulder that caused his nine-month absence from the lineup. Picked 12th out of Kansas in the 2003 draft, the 6'9", 255-pound Collison was three days into his first training camp when, going up for a rebound, he felt his shoulder pop from its socket and his arm go numb. After the joint slipped again the next morning--this time as he was reaching for a lamp at his bedside--he feared the worst. "I've been playing since I was nine, and the most I'd been out is four games," says Collison. "I didn't want to have the surgery."
Turns out he'd have two: one to fix his left shoulder, and an arthroscopic procedure five months later to prevent a similar injury to his right. As he recovered, Collison struggled to stave off boredom. On occasion he'd accept the invitation of veteran Ray Allen (shelved for the first 25 games with a bum right ankle) to come to his home to watch the Sonics' road games on TV. Collison soon saw how open opposing teams were leaving Seattle's big men, so he spent the summer honing his shooting from 10 to 15 feet. Already a rugged scorer inside, he has a zeal for rebounding that should help a team that averaged an NBA-worst 39.3 last season and developed bad habits on D. "Nick understands situations and how to defend them," coach Nate McMillan says. "Anytime you get a young player with that type of feel for the game, his playing time is going to increase quickly."
Fully healed, Collison will battle for the starting power forward job. "I'm glad I was in this situation coming after four years in college," Collison says. "If this would've happened coming out of high school, it would have been a lot tougher." --A.L.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the SuperSonics
They're going to struggle big-time without Brent Barry, who was their leader and top shooter. Second-year point guard Luke Ridnour and rookies Nick Collison and Robert Swift are the future of this team, but don't expect much from them this year.... I love Ridnour's quickness and the way he sees the floor and pushes the ball. He's along the lines of Steve Nash, an aggressive guy who plays hard, but that could leave Ridnour vulnerable to injury.... Collison and Swift could form a really talented front line, but it's going to take three or four years because Swift is coming straight out of high school. He has a solid frame with thick legs, and when he catches the ball he can make a play with his passing. He has the natural timing of a shot blocker, and he knows how to shoot and when to shoot.... Ray Allen has a lot of strengths--he's one of the best in the league coming off screens--but on this team he doesn't have an inside presence to draw double teams and create open looks for him.... I'm still not sure what Vladimir Radmanovic can be. He's out of position at power forward because Rashard Lewis has a lock on small forward. If Lewis is your third-best player, then you have a pretty good team. Unfortunately, he's their Number 2 player. He isn't exceptional in any area, and if you get physical with him, you can take him out of his game.... This is the last year of Nate McMillan's contract. He hasn't been given the sort of hard-nosed defensive players that suit his style; instead, he's had to play a more gimmicky, trapping defense. McMillan shouldn't be judged on wins and losses, but on whether their young guys develop this year.
Last season Seattle made 723 three-pointers, 122 more than second-ranked Sacramento and second alltime to the Mavericks' 735 in 1995-96.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003-04 statistics
Record: 37-45 (T-11th in West)
Points scored: 97.1 (6th in NBA)
Points allowed: 97.8 (24th)
Coach: Nate McMillan
(fifth season with the Sonics)
DANNY FORTSON [NEW ACQUISITION]
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (stats for 2002--03 college season) (r) Rookie (stats for Turkish League) *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES